Does Forcing Kids to Say I’m Sorry Make Sense?

Does Forcing Kids to Say I'm Sorry Make Sense?
Does Forcing Kids to Say I’m Sorry Make Sense? By Jennifer Andersen

Forcing kids to say I’m sorry does not add up. We can not make kids regret something. We cannot force them to internalize that they hurt somebody. We can ask questions that help develop empathy. We can help them see things from the perspectives of others. We can teach them verbiage to use when they do feel sorry. We can even get angry and frustrated that they do not feel regret about an action- that they are not sorry. We cannot however make them feel sorry.

This is why forcing kids to say I’m sorry boggles my mind. What do those words mean if they are not genuine? If the words “I’m sorry” come from mimicking, what is the point?

Perhaps it is because we want others to know that we understand our child’s behavior was not okay- that it hurt a friend or stranger. If this is the case, we can acknowledge it on our own, without the inauthenticity of our child saying words so they do not get in trouble. “I am really sorry that Johnny hit Sammy over the head with that sand pail. I feel awful. Is he okay? Is there anything I can do to help?”

Maybe it comes from the parent power trips that are prevalent in childrens’ worlds today. “My child really embarrassed me just now. I am going to show her/those who are watching who’s boss by commanding her to say two words of my choosing (I’m sorry) right now in front of all these people.”

Maybe it simply comes from feeling so bad that our child hurt another and we really want them to learn the proper ways to interact within a society. We genuinely may be trying to be a part of the solution. If this is the case does forcing kids to say I’m sorry actually accomplish this?

How do kids learn to apologize and say “I’m sorry” for real? Children learn what they live.

Are we apologizing to our children when we wrong them? Do we say “I’m sorry” after yelling at them or threatening them? Do we think to take a couple of minutes to acknowledge that we lost it after we have calmed down? If not, how can we expect our children to learn? How will they see that it is okay to screw up? Where will they learn the verbiage to accept accountability and apologize if not from us?

Forcing kids to say I’m sorry -or do or say anything else for that matter- is the easy way out- it’s a couple of on command words. It is harder to learn how to have conversations that allow our children to empathize. It is difficult to challenge our own beliefs so that we can begin treating our children the way we want them to treat others.

Forcing Kids to Say I’m Sorry: Are We Being the Change we Wish to See in Our Children?

Are we empathizing with our children? Are we articulating what they might be feeling so that we can see things from their perspective? Are we actively listening? Are we not only empathizing with our children but allowing them to live in what that feels like?  Are we making this their norm so that anything else feels inappropriate?

Yes, all of this is more work than simply forcing our kids to say two meaningless words. If we want our kids to learn how to genuinely say “I’m sorry” we have to give them the tools, permission to make mistakes, and space to see how that feels. Children learn what they live. If they live with role models who accept accountability, apologize, and work on personal change to not make the same mistake twice, it becomes their norm- their way of life. Good things happen when empathy and accountability are standard.

We all have the option to keep forcing kids to say I’m sorry- we hold all the power. We also have the opportunity to improve ourselves and our parenting so that our kids become more emotionally intelligent, connected, and authentic contributors to making the world a better place. Forcing kids to say I’m sorry is not compatible with the latter.

The choice is ours and we have the power to make it.